Issues: Child in Need > adult sibling > domestic violence
Lena was born in a non-EU country and came to the UK as a small child in 2010, with her mum, Maria, and older brother, Jon (a young teenager when he came to the UK and now an adult). Maria and the children entered the UK without any immigration status.
Lena’s father was already living in the UK when she arrived and has a complicated immigration history. Maria believed he has British citizenship, but she did not know when this was acquired. He suffers from long-term serious mental health issues and has abused Maria and their children multiple times.
For a long time, Maria did not know whether Lena’s father had British citizenship at the time of her birth. Without any evidence of this, she was treated as non-British.
Lena has a younger sister, Daniela, born in the UK.
Maria does not speak English – she relies on Jon to interpret for her and navigate life in the UK for their family. Jon is like a parent to his younger sisters. He is very caring and looks after them. Without Jon around, they would find it very difficult to cope.
In mid-2020, after an incident of domestic violence, Lena and her mum and siblings were referred to a migrant charity, which referred them to the local authority and asked for support. The local authority assessed Lena and her sister as children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act and agreed to provide support and accommodation for them and their mother. They were considered to have ‘no recourse to public funds’, so did not have access to mainstream benefits.
The LA placed Lena and her mum and sister in unsuitable accommodation for nearly a year, during which they were moved several times, from one unsuitable place to another. Eventually, Lena and her family were moved to another city and into better accommodation and a more permanent situation. The LA refused to support Jon, however, as he is an adult and not a parent. Jon has continued to live with and look after Lena, Daniela, and Maria. It is difficult for them to make ends meet on Section 17 support, which do not provide for Jon’s expenses.
The abuse by her father and the instability of her family’s situation affected Lena’s mental health. During the time the family was living in unsuitable accommodation, she started to self-harm and eventually was admitted to hospital, where she disclosed previous self-harm and suicide attempts.
The hospital sent Lena’s family a bill for her treatment. After the family’s solicitor intervened, the hospital agreed it was an error to send the bill, as treatment related to domestic violence is not chargeable, even for persons who have no immigration status. Although they did not have to pay this bill, receiving it was very stressful. The family were worried about access to healthcare – they were not eligible for free secondary care if unrelated to domestic violence, and if they incurred NHS debts, this could have adversely affected their immigration applications.
Lena and her family were referred to KIND UK for legal advice and assistance relating to immigration and citizenship issues. Because of the complexities of their case, it is being dealt with outside the KIND UK pro bono project by one of KIND UK’s specialist partners. Their solicitor submitted applications to regularise the immigration status of Lena and her family members in 2021, and these were granted. Lena’s application was based on her having lived in the UK as a child for more than 7 years.
After Lena and other family members were granted leave to remain in the UK, they were later able to obtain evidence that Lena’s father was already a British citizen when Lena was born. This means that Lena was a British citizen at birth, by descent. Her sister Daniela is also a British citizen from birth. They both now have British passports.
Best Practice: What should have happened?
- The LA should have recognised that Jon’s parent-like role in the family is key to Lena’s well-being and provided support adequate to cover his basic living costs until his immigration status is regularised and he is able to work or access mainstream benefits.
- The LA should have provided suitable, stable accommodation for Lena and her family much sooner.
- Lena and her family potentially could have made the currently pending application 4 years ago, when Lena had lived in the UK for 7 years, had they gotten appropriate legal advice. Any agencies assisting them from that time should have referred them for legal advice.
All names in this piece have been changed to protect privacy. Some information has been omitted or simplified.